Politics & Policy

Five Days in May

The loss of the USS Scorpion.

At 1 in the afternoon on Monday, May 27, 1968, at the height of the Cold War the USS Scorpion was due in port.

Yolanda didn’t know it then, but her dad was already dead.

The families gathered on Pier 22 and huddled together in the wind and rain. And looked out over the storm, over white-capped waves.

They waited for the USS Scorpion without any word for five days.

Women for millennia have waited by the sea for their men to return. In bygone eras, a hand-railed walkway was built along the rooftop of sailors’ homes. So that the wives and mothers, and daughters and sons could look out for returning ships. Sometimes the boats didn’t come back. But the women and children would still watch and pray and hope.

In those days, like Penelope, they often waited for months, even decades.

Frank Patsy Mazzuchi, QMSC, a senior chief quartermaster, was looking for a berth teaching at nearby Fort Eustis. The chief and his Navy wife traveled to the Pentagon to work out a deal on his next duty station. The Navy assignment desk persuaded Chief Mazzuchi to take a last submarine tour in the Mediterranean.

The senior, experienced chief was needed on the USS Scorpion: A capstone to his career before retiring. He would make the last voyage. Then shore duty with normal hours, normal life. Instead, the capstone became a headstone.

The submarine “silent service” is an elite, intimate sea-duty. The Scorpion was not a big vessel for her day with 99 men in tight quarters. She was 31-feet wide, powered by a nuclear reactor and armed with two nuclear-tipped torpedoes.

The Scorpion carried Russian-speaking experts for espionage to fight Soviet subs in the Cold War. The Scorpion had just finished its three-month deployment in the Med and was headed home when new orders arrived. The nuclear sub was diverted from its trip home to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa for a spying mission on Soviet ships.

A high-speed run to the Soviet fleet. Then silence. It is believed that an accidental internal explosion doomed the boat. Questions remain on maintenance.

Without closure.

She was overdue in Norfolk on 27 May and probably sank on 22 May. The Navy declared the sub “presumed lost” on 2 June, 1968.

Finally, in October of that year, the Scorpion’s final resting place was discovered some two miles beneath the surface, west of the Azores. The sub became a coffin to the 99. She will not be raised.

Yolanda says, “Before he left, we had a big argument and I told him that I wished he would go to sea and never come back.”

And he never did. Those departing words haunted her for years. “It took a very long time to get over that remark,” she says.

Her son, the grandson Chief Mazzuchi never saw, joined the Navy. He serves now on the USS Washington in the Caribbean. And doesn’t write as often as he should.

But Yolanda has already forgiven him. As she is sure her father had forgiven her for a little girl’s thoughtless final words.

She says, “In fact, it was not until my children became teenagers that I understood that my father forgave me as quickly as I said it.”

Forgiveness and loss; sorrow and hope and sacrifice. Even today, the Cold War long past, the warriors remain on eternal patrol and the Widow’s Walk continues on Navy Pier. Tracing the steps of those who waited in vain for five days in May, so many years ago.

Penelope and Telemachus, awaiting the return of Odysseus.

–Jack Yoest, is a management consultant and former Army Captain. His father served on the submarine Bonefish in WWII and in the Navy for 30 years. He blogs at www.Yoest.org

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